Shellfish: Many shellfish are at their prime until spring, this includes native oysters, clams and scallops. October is an excellent month for mussels, they make a great meal on their own and as an addition to many dishes. To make a simple dish of mussels cook them in dry white wine with finely chopped garlic and a bay leaf until they have opened (discard any that don't open). Add a generous amount of double cream, heat through and stir in plenty of finely chopped parsley. Serve the mussels in a large bowl with plenty of fresh bread. Mussels along with other shellfish such as clams make a great addition to many seafood stews and soups.
Fish:Sea bass is well priced in October and is good baked whole with plenty of herbs in the cavity and drizzled with a little olive oil. Fillets of Sea bass are excellent pan fried with their skin on in a little olive oil.
Anyone who lives near a good fish monger will know that squid is in season. Small squid suit quick cooking methods such as pan frying, char grilling and deep frying. Larger squid need slower cooking, Try baked whole squid stuffed with cooked rice mixed with herbs and ham, serve the squid sliced with a light salad.
Also good:Crabs are well priced and widely available, they make great salads, soufflés and additions to seafood stews, Thai curries and stir fries. See are recipe for Thai Crab Salad. Herrings, hake, dover sole, halibut, skate, turbot and haddock should also be good.
In October Britain is well into the game season. Pheasant and Woodcock come into season in October and will be available until the end of January. Young pheasant can be treated in very much the same way as chicken, young pheasant breast are delicious when pan fried they also make a delicious roast. Pheasant makes an excellent pot roast when cooked with apples and cider.
Apples: Apples and pears are at the peak of their season in October, as anyone with an apple or pear tree will know. Locally grown apples and pears fill the shelves of most grocers and supermarkets. Slices of pears and apples are delicious served simply in a savoury salad when tossed in lemon juice and served with watercress, stilton or a similar crumbly blue cheese and toasted walnuts. Apples and pears as we all know make delicious sweet pies, crumbles and tarts (try this months recipe for Apple Tarte Tatin) or simply poach apples or pears in a white or red wine with sugar and spices. Serve the poached fruit hot or cold with sorbet or ice-cream.
Going, Going, Gone:October sees the last of the fresh berries that have been in abundance through out summer, with the price of strawberries quickly rising. Blackberries through are still widely available but will soon be gone as the frost sets in.
Wild Mushrooms: October brings the height of the mushroom season with many varieties at their very best with plenty of chanterelles and ceps. Truffles white and black are good, fresh ones are worth getting your hands on if you can, very little is needed to give a lot of flavour. Truffles are excellent when stored with risotto rice as they keep dry and flavour the rice. You can also store them in a jar with eggs to flavour eggs for a delicious scrambled eggs with truffles. When choosing mushrooms look for smooth unblemished skin. If picking them yourself always use a good guide book and never eat any unless you are hundred percent sure of their identity (there are many poisonous look alikes). Eat them fresh or refrigerate for a few days. Clean mushrooms by brushing them lightly. Wild mushrooms make an excellent warm salad sautéed with a little garlic, finely chopped thyme, sauteed in olive oil and tossed with rocket, watercress and diced tomatoes. Garnish the salad with toasted pine nuts and parmesan shavings and drizzle over a little truffle oil. Wild mushrooms and truffles also feature in this months recipe for wild mushroom soup.
Brussel Sprouts:Brussel sprouts season comes into full swing in October with plenty of delicious small green ones. There is no need to do anything but trim the base of the very small ones while with larger ones a cut a criss cross in the base assists with the cooking. Brussel sprouts are best cooked briefly to retain their flavour and vitamins. Overcooked Brussel sprouts resulted in my childhood hatred of the vegetable. Brussel sprouts are also good shredded and added to a stir fried.
Other September Vegetables:Watercress, radicchio, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese leaves eg. Bok Choy and tuber vegetables of all types including the hard to find salsify are good along with plenty more Autumn and Winter vegetables.
Suddenly in October in Britain pumpkins appear everywhere ready to be cut it into jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween and their flesh to be discarded. Just as suddenly as they appeared after October 31st they disappear. While a greater variety of squash and pumpkin are becoming readily available in Britain it is still less used in the home than other parts of Europe and the rest of the world. Growing up in Australia, pumpkin is as common a sight on the dinner table as potatoes and no roast would be complete without it. With Australian pumpkin soup appearing regularly at dinner parties.
Winter Squash have a tough outer skin, with a hollow centre with woody seeds, which can be eaten when toasted whole or blanched, peeled and eaten. Pumpkin contains high levels of beta carotene the vitamin A property that protects against cancer and helps with respiratory problems. The pumpkin seeds are high in zinc and protein.
Winter Squash have been enjoyed by Americans, Europeans and Middle Eastern's since Ancient times. Archaeological evidence proves that the native Americans the Incas were cultivating squash and it was a main part of their staple diet. The name pumpkin came about from the 17th century Greek word for melon 'pepon' which meant baked in the sun.
Pumpkins are great for many dishes with its sweet tender flesh. Winter squash can be used in many dishes with different countries having their own specialty e.g.. stews, gratins, pies, ravioli, risotto, fondues, soups, breads, curries, baked whole etc., its uses seem endless. Also its shell is useful for serving pumpkin dishes, giving a good visual appearance.
While some varieties of squash such as butternut squash are available all year round. The winter squash season begins in early summer and continues until the end of winter.
Varieties:There is an ever increasing variety from around the world. Below I just give a basic guide for the most common squash.
Butternut squashis a pear shaped squash with a thin skin that is edible when baked. Spaghetti squash has a yellow skin and stringy yellow flesh, which is very much like spaghetti when cooked and is in fact excellent with many pasta sauces.Turban Squash is shaped like a turban, it is often used just for decoration but can be prepared just like other winter squashes. It is excellent baked whole. Golden nuggetis like a miniature pumpkin with a sweet and tender texture. It goes without saying that you cook it like any other winter squash. It is delicious baked, pureed, steamed, deep fried or any other way that takes your fancy.
Choose whole squash with thick unbroken skin that are heavy for their size. Acorn, butternut and spaghetti are available throughout the year. When purchasing pieces of pumpkin try to get one to be cut up in front of you or choose pieces which have a moist interior.
Whole winter squash can be stored in a cool, dry and well ventilated areas for a month or more. Check them regularly and if blemishes appear cut them away and use them as soon as possible. Pieces of squash should have all the seeds removed, just leaving the firm flesh, cover the pieces and store in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.
Winter squash are very hard making them difficult to cut, so if you don't have a large knife, get your pumpkin cut when purchased. Remove the stem from it and then cut it in half starting from the stem end, then remove the seeds and stringy fibre. With large squash you will then need to cut it into further pieces.
Most people peel their pumpkin, this is difficult as the skin is tough and slippery. I slice the skin off by placing the pumpkin flat on the board and I then cut it away. I often serve softer skin varieties of squash roasted with their skin on e.g.. butternut squash. It is much easier to remove the skin from winter squash when cooked, if needed at all.
Small varieties of squash can be baked and steamed whole, by cutting off their tops and scooping out all their seeds and fibre.